I’m currently reading Ben Mezrich’s “Bringing Down the House” about a group of M.I.T. students who took card counting to Vegas. I took a quick break from reading it last night to watch the movie adaptation called “21”. It’s quite a bit different so far. But, that’s not what I’m writing about.
No. While watching the film, I remembered my very brief, but memorable contact with casino security when I was 14 or 15 years old. Yes, you read that right. At best, I was 15 years old. 6 years shy of my 21st birthday. You can’t gamble in Nevada until your 21.
There is a bit of the movie that shows some of back room intimidation to get one of the characters to never come back. I never saw anything like that. When I look back, I laugh about it. But, at the time, it was quite intimidating.
My step dad at the time was named Dick. Dick’s sister’s family lived in the neighboring community of San Jacinto. They had three boys, Greg, Steve and Scott who was the same age as me. During the end of one summer, they were scheduled to take Steve to college at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. For some reason, they invited us along on the road trip. My memory is that we didn’t stop in Laughlin until we were on our way back.
Laughlin, Nevada isn’t much of a detour between Southern California and Arizona. I knew many people who would go to Laughlin on weekends because it was literally on the Colorado River. I remember riding a jet ski there for the first time. Anyway, on this trip, we stopped at Harrah’s casino and hotel for the night before returning home. Looking back, I wonder why we were there to begin with. Sure, it was neat seeing Flagstaff. I think it was the first college campus I had seen. But, we were only stopping in Laughlin for the night. And we weren’t 21 years old yet. So, for us kids, it was just a road trip. So, exciting.
In the beginning of this post, I alluded to the contact I had with casino security. But, that doesn’t mean we didn’t have our parent’s consent to gamble. Oh no. They were the one’s who gave us the money. That’s right. They handed us each $20 bills and told us to be careful not to get caught. I need to remind myself to give my very wholesome mom a hard time about that some time soon.
I don’t remember what my younger sister was doing then. Maybe she didn’t want to gamble. Maybe she hung close to my mom. I don’t remember. I’d ask her. But, well, she’s not talking to me right now. But, I do remember that it was myself, and my cousins Scott and Greg. Greg was going to be hanging out with Grandma. Scott and I each headed our seperate ways. I don’t know why we expected to get away with this. Greg at least looked close to 21. Scott and I were essentially the same age. I remember standing at a slot machine for less then 5 minutes. I had only pulled the lever a couple of times before I felt a tap on my shoulder. Before I turned around I heard “Come with us”.
Needless to say, I complied.
I was led to a stairway on the opposite end of the casino floor by two very large men in dark suits. Once in the stairway, I was led down one flight of stairs and into a very small room. If it wasn’t for the desk, I would assume I was in a custodial storage closet. A man stood up from the desk when I arrived. He pointed at my cousin Scott already sitting near the desk.
The man behind the desk pointed at Scott and asked me “Do you know this guy?”
I looked at Scott. Then looked back at the man asking the question and without skipping a beat replied with “No”.
That’s right. I said that I had no idea who my cousin was. Was I an idiot? Did I expect that I would somehow get away with something by not knowing him? I have no idea. Looking back, it was that kind of response a kid gives a parent when they know their doing something wrong. All of a sudden you hear from the other room “What are you doing?” How many kids are quick to answer with “Nothing!”? It was just instinct. Of course I knew him. I regreted that answer even before it finished leaving my mouth.
“Well, he knows you.” Came his reply. I was shaking my head and ready to correct myself even before he finished challenging me. I quickly came clean about knowing him and why we were there.
We both gave our parent’s names. They were paged and soon arrived in the closet where we were held. We were both strenously warned that they could take us to juvenile hall. But, they didn’t have one in Laughlin. The closest juvenile hall was in Las Vegas. And that was a very long road trip. But, since our parents were here and we were scheduled to leave the next day, we were told that we would be grounded to our floor in the hotel.
Once we were out of ear shot of the security guards, I heard my Aunt say “We need to go find Greg. He’s with Grandma!”